Thank you, Minister, for the introduction.
I will also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and pay my respects to their elders and all First Nations people present.
Given our purpose for gathering today, I particularly acknowledge Indigenous women leaders, including Karrina Nolan, thank you very much for your very passionate speech. I’ve had the opportunity in my career of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women leaders and have always learned an enormous amount and I thank them for that.
I was incredibly honoured to be asked to be an Equality Initiative Ambassador, alongside Nicola Falcon from AEMO, and I wanted to speak to you today from that position – so don’t worry, I won’t be spruiking transmission access reform! <
However, this is a chance for me to speak to some things I’m very passionate about, and they are:
- the ambition to achieve equal representation in the energy sector by 2030
- why I think that’s important
- and how I think we might go about getting there.
I’m very conscious that when I’m speaking about these incredibly important issues, they are also deeply personal. So, while I’m going to talk to you from my own experience and my own thoughts, I’m very aware that people in the audience have their own experiences and their own views – and really, that’s the beauty and value of diversity and the reason we are here today.
Getting to net zero
Let me start by adding my voice to the ‘why’ we’re aiming for Equal by 30 and then give some observations on the ‘how’ do we get there.
There’s a beautiful quote from Isabelle Hudon, co-chair of the Global Equal by 30 campaign, who said “we must harness all possible talent to discover the breakthrough solutions that will transform energy and the world”.
For me this is an intersection of two areas of passion:
- firstly, the urgency needed to undertake the fundamental transformation of the energy system to get us to net zero
- and secondly, the need to harness diversity in all aspects and at all levels across our sector in order to achieve that goal.
Moving away from traditions
To start with – this is really about the numbers. We need as many people as possible contributing to the transformation. So, if we look at the roles in our sector that have traditionally been male-dominated – like engineering and the trades – the ambition of getting more women involved in those areas is absolutely critical.
We have a lot to build and we need the workforce to do it. It can only help to add more women in these roles - otherwise we simply won’t have enough people to get the work done.
Overcoming the barriers to those STEM qualifications and careers for women remains a permanent priority for all of us.
But as we also move away from the traditional shape of the energy sector, and into reliance on new technologies and consumer energy resources, there are so many different skills we need to add to the mix.
Things like – going into communities and appreciating their positions, and actually gaining social licence for the 10,000 kilometres of new poles and wires we need.
Things like – working out what are the new services we need to invent to help households get the best out of their rooftop solar or batteries.
And of course, there’s scope for extraordinary technological innovation in storage and generation, and to keep the grid stable, which means working with creativity and collaboration between research, development, investment and regulation.
I saw an amazing piece on the news this morning, out of Monash Uni, about the idea that there’s an enzyme made by bacteria in the air that can split hydrogen molecules to make electricity.
I thought to myself, ‘wow – science fiction to science fact!’ But that’s what we need, right? That kind of research and innovation is how we’re going to get through.
All these aspects of the energy transformation call for the kind of power skills (pardon the pun) that women tend to be absolutely fantastic at. Things like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, innovation and inclusiveness.
Diversity inspires innovation
And when it comes to my part of the world, delving briefly into regulation, there are a lot of very complex problems to solve.
As anyone who has heard me speak before will know how strongly I believe that this can only be done by bringing together different perspectives, whether it’s gender, culture, age, ethnicity or life experience. Countless studies show we get better solutions when we embrace a wider range of perspectives.
A great study from the Australian Diversity Council has shown that inclusive teams are 10 times more likely to come up with innovative solutions.
Getting to equal by 30
So how are we going to get to that diversity, at least in gender? I think setting an ambitious target is a good start.
There’s an elegant analogy between our net zero target for 2050 and the Equal by 30 target for 2030. Setting a target, especially a tough one, makes us step back and look at what are the barriers to achieving that target and what do we need to do differently to overcome those barriers?
But I promised I’d stick to our main purpose today, so when it comes to the gender equality barriers I tend to think of them in three buckets.
The first is the need for physical and psychological safety for women in the workplace. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to have not experienced harassment, open discrimination’, or worse behaviour. But unfortunately, I bet the same can’t be said for everyone in this room and achieving this is absolutely fundamental.
Second are the challenging issues around unconscious bias and merit, which tend to show up in places like recruitment, pay, and promotion. I do have some experience here! When I started as a young articulated clerk in the early 90s, the firm I joined had two female partners out of around 50 – or 4% - and to have any women as partners then, was considered a big step.
By the time I was appointed a partner we were up to 17% female representation, and when I retired from the partnership in 2020 we had reached our then target of 35%. There were many, many actions that contributed to this, but a large part of it was breaking down what merit really looked like, and addressing the tendency we all have to think that a good hire is ‘someone who looks like me’.
And the third bucket is what I think of as the structural issues that arise from the fact women have children, and more broadly remain the dominant carers in our society. Again, this one is very close to home for me as my husband James has been the primary caregiver for our children and our family since I went back to work when our eldest was 6 months old – our kids are now 17 and 15.
This has given me enormous freedom in pursuing my career and has been both a joy and a challenge for him as he steps outside what has been considered normal for men as fathers. The ability for families to have real choices about who does what is another critical step for enabling women to pursue careers.
So, what are some of the things we can do to address these barriers?
We do have some excellent practical steps already laid out by Equal by 30 and other streams of the Equality Initiative.
More broadly, WGEA the Diversity Council, Chief Executive Women and others have evidence-based actions for anyone seeking to improve diversity.
I thought I would share some of our actions at the AEMC, where we are lucky to have a strong gender balance – three out of five Commissioners are women, three out of six on the executive team, 10 out of 21 of our director level leadership group, and 55% of staff overall identify as female.
We’ve had a pretty good overall gender balance for about 10 years, but we can’t afford to be complacent and continue to strive for improvement in our diversity and inclusion.
First, we have been working on psychological safety through our Conditions to Thrive program.
It’s critical that we as a Commission engage with the diverse views of our stakeholders and bring them into our consideration of the problems we’re trying to solve. If we want our people to do that externally, we absolutely must make sure that we’re behaving that way internally too. We have been gathering data to support our current state and areas for further leadership work in this area.
Second, in relation to unconscious bias, one thing we do is to run pay and progression gap reviews, including monitoring for unconscious bias, for instance, affecting part-time staff. A simple example of this is a comp-ratio analysis to check for systemic disadvantage in our pay structures.
And for the third bucket, traditional disadvantages relating to childbearing, we offer 12 weeks paid parental leave to all primary carers regardless of gender - to normalise equal participation in child rearing.
And still in this bucket, I’m really pleased to say that yesterday we let staff know we’ll be plugging a crucial gap by voluntarily paying super throughout both their paid and unpaid parental leave, so they are not left behind financially because of choices they want to make that suit their family.
Let me leave you with this in conclusion: It is a huge challenge to meet both our net zero targets and our gender diversity targets but I’m very much a glass-half-full person, and I am optimistic we can get there on both fronts.
The inclusion of women throughout the energy sector is essential for us to get where we are going. We need every available talent, and every kind of perspective, applied to the fundamental transformation of the energy sector if we’re to reach net zero by 2050.
In order to harness that talent in our organisations we need to diagnose our particular barriers, learn from others how we can do things differently to overcome those barriers, and then put real resources behind the solutions.
I suggest we kickstart the process of learning from each other this afternoon.
I look forward to learning lots of new things with you all.